Scott Hanselman

System won't pass the BIOS POST - Yank external USB drives

November 29, 2006 Comment on this post [16] Posted in Musings
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Last night I had an almost-full-on-computer-emergency. I was trying to sync an iPod with content for a coming 20 hour plane flight, and suddenly Vista announced an "Unknown USB" device. Then another, and another. The iPod died, and every device on my system started a full scale revolt. I was stressed a bit, but I figured a reboot was in order. So, orderly shutdown and reboot, BIOs black screen comes up...and nothing. Zero. My system was hanging on BIOS POST. I couldn't even get into the CMOS via F2 to try other settings.

I started unhooking stuff. USB devices, internal drives, even the floppy for gosh sake. Nothing. At this point I'm getting uncomfortable. So what did I do? I did what anyone would do. I called Jeff Atwood.

Here's a little something about me. Back in the day, I knew a metric crapload about computer hardware. I could go on and on about the different between an SX and DX Processor. If you needed an MFM or RLL hard drive, I could give you a recommendation. You needed a TSR loaded into the UMB, screw QEMM, call me. I could put a field of DIPPs on an ISA add-on board and get your 286 up to a MEG of RAM.

But, alas, after the Pentium 4, everything got complex. People started talking about Northbridge this, and DRAM that, and this whole code name thing with Intel (Conroe? Tahoe? Who knows) just put me off.

I no longer know what motherboard to buy. Those brain cells have long been overwritten with more immediately useful information like the internal workings of System.Web.UI.WebControls.TextBox.

Jeff knows, though, and I called him at 10:45pm last in a sweaty panic. Well, actually I SMS'ed him, and he called me back, but still, details.

I explained the situation in exquisite detail with voices for all the characters involved. He said "remove your USB drives." I said, "I did already." He said "Humour me." He's from the Bay Area, but you can always here the "u" in words like Humor with Jeff. It's how he maintains quiet superiority over you and I.

Anyway, I went back upstairs, and alas, I'd missed a drive. My precious Iomega 35G USB Rev drive was still plugged in. (Not sure why, Iomega has no Vista drivers, and their support site sücks. Notice the Heavy Metal umlaut indicating that they don't just suck, but they suck über-ly.

So, I removed my USB Rev Drive, and boom. I'm back in business. Sweet sassy mollassy, I'm back in business. Danke Jeff Atwood.

The sad, silent tragedy about this whole sordid affair? My wife had given me the go ahead to buy a new motherboard, thinking the USB Root Hubs were toast before Jeff came up with the solution. Um, thanks Jeff?

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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November 29, 2006 4:00
I've got two machines that won't boot with my iPod Nano attached to them. Doesn't make any sense to me, but it's similar to your problem.
November 29, 2006 4:37
Same thing with my Zune (can't fit the umlaut in your comments or I would!). Seems that this is a fairly pervasive issue - my wif'es PC used to throw fits if her iPod was attached during the boot. Seems to be a boot/driver load issue.
November 29, 2006 5:32
My Pc does this if I leave my 40gb ipod connected during a reboot, it freaked me out the first time it happened.
November 29, 2006 5:35
"My precious Iomega 35G USB Rev drive was still plugged in"
glad to see that you, like every other user, overlooks things and gives the wrong story to the support person on the phone as well.

after watching enough of the show "House, MD" i now work on the assumption that every user is lying to me the whole time. it's a brilliant technique for fixing problems, though it does annoy people when i get them to restate everthing, and i shine a lamp in their eyes throughout interrogation.
November 29, 2006 7:47
>Those brain cells have long been overwritten with more immediately useful information like the
>internal workings of System.Web.UI.WebControls.TextBox.

Heh. I'm just the same. MFM? Bah. ESDI all the way baby. What's really sick is how much of that old stuff remains burned in my brain, refusing to give way to more immediately useful facts. I could probably still write a config.sys for qemm blind.
November 29, 2006 8:28

For want of a USB port, the kingdom was nearly lost!

Glad to hear this ended well. When my computer ain't happy, ain't *nobody* happy at my house.
November 29, 2006 13:33
>The sad, silent tragedy about this whole sordid affair?
>My wife had given me the go ahead to buy a new motherboard,
>thinking the USB Root Hubs were toast before Jeff came up with the solution.
>Um, thanks Jeff?
The irony of having your freak hardware problems solved is, that you lose that one chance to upgrade before your machine actually gets old!

November 29, 2006 14:36
The same thing happened a few times with my Dell laptop. It would "boot", black screen, the internal drive obviously not spinning, and then it would just shut down.

If I waited for a few seconds and tried again, it would work. I guess it's the same problem because I've recently added an external USB hard drive that is powered from the laptop (does not have its own power brick, which is actually very cool).

>Those brain cells have long been overwritten with more immediately useful information like the

I was like that too, but recently I have decided to finally upgrade my desktop machine (after 5 years!) and had to get familiar with hardware again. It does take time, but it's not much more complicated than it used to be. In the end, I'm buying something quite similar to what Jeff Atwood built recently (see his blog for details). I'll overclock too, except I'll try not to fry my mainboard ;)
November 29, 2006 18:26
"metric crapload" HA! hope you don't mind if i start using that. laugh out loud funny.

the first time i left my ipod hooked up to my dell xps laptop and windows update decided that it needed to reboot my machine in the middle of the night, i nearly passed out when i saw the non-booting carnage the next morning.

your details about smsing vs. calling redmind me of many conversations with my wife. i use the phrases "i told ...", "i spoke ...", etc quite a bit and my wife can't get over the fact that it means that "i communicated in some way" vs. actually speaking with some one.
November 29, 2006 19:04
Heh. Thank you very much for this post! all the talk about MFM and RLL and QEMM and UMB and stuff brought back happy tingly memories, and I'm definitely with you, i wouldn't know what components to get to build a computer today. I'm glad I'm not the only person in that boat. :)

November 29, 2006 19:05
I've had exactly the same thing happen to me, and it's well scary...

Not sure about the details, but I'm pretty sure that there is an option in my bios to disable booting from external devices - I never do that anyway (well, not intentionally!), so I'm sure I turned it off. Then again, maybe I dreamt the whole thing and I'm sending you on a wild goose chase, but I'm at work so I can't really confirm it at the moment.
November 29, 2006 20:05
Wow! You quite young to be used to all that stuff! Those were some good ol'days..... :)
but as you say, times change and we must forward replacing old tricks with new ones.
And the support case.... just funny... Sometimes happens
"Hasta al mejor cazador se le va la liebre"
November 29, 2006 22:15
Funny how we all get tainted when products go bad. I am often yelling "Damn COM!" no matter what the problem is in my code. The same can be said for Iomega. I had the misfortune of buying a ZIP drive back in the 90s and had nothing but headaches with it. Their support was virtually non-existant and I swore that I would use the drive as a doorstop from that incident. (It is a bad doorstop as well).

I think it is safe to yell out "Damn Iomega!" in this instance.
November 29, 2006 22:41
See, not calling my local version of Jeff Atwood (my friend Brian) is what enabled me to get a nice, new HP AMD Turon widescreen laptop when my old Athlon 850 wouldn't boot.

That being said, is the reason some PC's won't boot if a USB drive is plugged in due to some setting in the BIOS. The boot device order?
November 29, 2006 23:06
I had this problem with my iPod shuffle until I went into the bios and disabled "legacy USB support" or some such.
November 30, 2006 7:26
I had the same thing happen on one pc, but in this case it would also happen with an unpowered usb hub plugged in - so i would have to remember to remove it every time I rebooted the machine (which would get annoying and not humourous and this would make it my not so favourite machine). I swapped out the hub for another one and everything was fine - I guess some motherboards are Really Fussy about the power requirements needed.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.